Originally from Western Australia, Sheila Hawkins spent time studying art in Melbourne, before moving to London. Her new avant garde style, with simple strong lines and black and white pen and ink drawings, were something publishers in Australia simply could not afford to take a chance on. In 1932, Heinemann, did produce Black Tuppery, which she created with a friend, but Australian publishers with their small market, were not prepared to branch out into experimental or unconventional works and thus Hawkins moved to England.
In London, far greater opportunities presented themselves for artists at this time (the early 1930's), and prior to the outbreak of war, Hawkins managed to have five picture books published (four of which were also released in the United States). These included Eena-Meena-Mina-Mo and Benjamin (1935), as well as The Panda and the Piccaninny and Little Gray Colo, both published in 1939. Despite Hawkins being Australian, these early books were aimed more at the American market and were decidedly un-Australian, with Aborigines looking more like Afro-Americans. Colo is described as the true ancestor of the beloved teddy bear, but the story does not sound appealing when described by one book seller as having Black Sambo type illustrations! However it is obviously seen as a collectors item now selling for $US30 to $US50.
Her bold new style was enthusiastically met at the time, with her work being very effective, unique and influential (although not in Australia where she was virtually unknown). The avant garde style, however, soon became common place and Hawkins' success did not continue in the same vein. Her work designing posters however, enabled her to learn the latest printing techniques and come in contact with many new artists and styles. When Penguin Books, an innovative publisher, with an already well established reputation, launched their Puffin Picture Books, Hawkins was commisioned to illustrate a book called Animals of Australia. Upon returning to Australia, after the war, she produced a similar volume for Angus and Robertson and continued to illustrate books, focussing on her drawing skills rather than writing. Examples can be found in Peggy Barnard's Wish and the Magic Nut (1956), as well as Ruth Park's Airlift for Grandee (1964).